Want to see three top-notch shows in one? Just head to the Museum of Decorative Arts for Dries Van Noten: Inspirations. When it comes to chic, Paris museums are always inventive—but this show is about more than fashion alone. There is also film, style history and visual art. It’s amazing art, too, from rarities of the 16th and 19th centuries to choice contemporaries such as Yves Klein, Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst and many others.
What about the fashion itself? Well, it’s everywhere—and that includes not just design by Dries Van Noten. You’ll also see some all-star pieces of couture. For example, there’s the Christian Dior “Bar” suit: the jacket and skirt that epitomized his famous New Look. There’s a wonderful outfit created in Diaghilev’s style—a late ’70s homage—by Yves Saint Laurent. Plus there are classic pieces from unknown artisans through the centuries, which include charming hats, button-up boots and the shapeliest capes.
One landmark Schiaparelli evening gown is covered in butterflies, which are then “caged in” by a lacy overdress. A special stage showcases a garden bouquet of breathtaking gowns—each one covered in elegant flower motifs—from Nina Ricci, Dior, Chanel and Balenciaga. There are also rare pieces, including a wonderful silver, chinchilla and velvet dress by Paul Poiret as well as a robe du soir from Callot Soeurs. There’s even a flowery ’60s jacket that is rather special. Now the property of Van Noten, this was made famous by its first owner: Jimi Hendrix.
The show is arranged by theme, with a room of punkish “Chaos” and another of “Dandies” (complete with an equally huge string of very famous portraits). You can see Jean Cocteau’s uniform for the Académie française—complete with his sword designed by Cartier—or a suit made for and worn by the Duke of Windsor. There’s Bowie, Visconti, John Singer Sargent and, of course, Van Noten. To say there’s something for anyone would be an understatement.
The whole list of goodies on show would make any jaw drop, plus many of these are first-time-ever loans from Paris museums. (One wonderful example is Bronzino’s 16th-century Portrait of a Sculptor, a marvelous work usually seen in the Louvre.) Others are treasures from private collections around the world. To all of this, you can add a lot of archive treats. These include clips of films to which Van Noten looks for inspiration (from Chariots of Fire to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) as well as some favorite photographs (shots of the Sex Pistols and vintage Hollywood screen romance but also the “Lightscape” series by James Reeves).
In addition to historic accessories and vintage textiles there are even videos of the Van Noten artisans. Especially impressive is his label’s 3,000-strong embroidery team in India.
Is it overwhelming? Yes! The show is as mesmerizing as it is atmospherically lit. (Pay special attention to that, too, because many a visitor has walked into these shining walls.) However, by its end, you will have packed three shows into one. Fashion, visual art and . . . plenty of inspiration.
• All Paris museums will let you book online. This exhibit is a sensation, so make certain you book in advance. Also be sure to set aside plenty of time. This is a special-occasion show and something to really savor. Trying to slot it in on a busy day will only prove frustrating.
Dries Van Noten: Inspirations runs until 31 August 31, 2014.